Sunday, May 31, 2009

Target Price Tags Lead to Shopper Confusion

While browsing through the food aisles at the SuperTarget in St. Louis Park, I observed two separate incidents of shoppers not understanding Target's price tags. Since I didn't observe that many total incidents of shoppers interacting with the price tags, this seems like an abnormally high error rate.

In the first instance, two women were chit-chatting while casually picking up food. As they passed by the barbecue sauce section, one of them remarked to the other that Sweet Baby Ray's (a brand of barbecue sauce that's fairly popular in Minnesota and Wisconsin) was on sale. As a fan of Sweet Baby Ray's myself, the comment piqued my interest (I'm always looking to stock up on something I like when it's on sale) so I looked over to the rack to inspect the price. To my dismay, Sweet Baby Ray's was in fact not on sale. But, the item directly above it (some sort of marinade) was on sale, and the large 'on-sale' ticket was hung directly above the various bottles of Sweet Baby Ray's. As far as I can tell, the shoppers mistakenly associated the 'on-sale' ticket with the Sweet Baby Ray's and used it to justify its purchase, which one admitted to the other was an "impulse purchase."

In the second instance, two teenage boys were shopping with a limited budget (this sounds like some made-up persona, but it's true!) and I passed them in the snacks aisle. One of them saw a bag of Munchies and mentioned to his friend that he loved Munchies and that they sooo good. But he ended up not buying the product because, as he explained to his friend, "Seven dollars is too much for Munchies." Not a fan of Munchies myself but nonetheless an occasional purchase of bagged chips, I thought to myself that seven dollars IS too much for Munchies...something must be wrong. So, I checked the price (since the item was not on sale, the price tag was a standard tag like the one pictured above) and found that the price for the object adjacent to the Munchies (some sort of package of several "lunch size" packs of chips) was $6.99 (i.e. "seven dollars"). However, the Munchies, whose price tag was a bit to the left of the bag and therefore easy-to-miss, were $3.99, a far more reasonable price (I think it was a super-size bag). So in this case, the shoppers' confusion led to a lost sale for Target.

In both cases, the shoppers were confused about which price tag applied to which item, which to me calls into question the effectiveness of the price tags' designs. I'm guessing they were not designed for maximum usability, as they are similar to the tags one would find at any big-box store and are probably merely the default style that the tag manufacturer provides. But, this being Target, I'm surprised that the company hasn't unleashed its army of designers on this problem, something that could be costing the company lost sales and, if solved, could possibly result in greater revenue and most-likely in greater brand equity.

One idea I had was to, at least on the larger 'on-sale' tickets, put a picture of the sale item on the tag. Manufacturers already spend a lot of effort on distinguishing their packaging from their competitors, so why not leverage that effort and simply show a picture of the item next to the price? If this isn't possible, then perhaps the price tag could at least feature an easy-to-read, non-technical, non-abbreviated description of the product. "Munchies, $3.99" would probably be sufficient.

Images from here and here.

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